How I Won the War: Canvassing for John Lindsay

I RANG the bell. Floorboards squeaked. "Who's there?" she whispered, not daring to even look through the peephole.

I quickly shoved the Smithie I was canvassing with forward. "Hello, we'd like to talk to you for a few minutes about the issues in the mayoralty campaign." New York. Washington Heights. Lindsay.

"Go away, we don't want any!" the woman said.

We stood for an uncertain moment, and could hear the old lady huddled behind the door, like a church mouse, waiting for us to leave.

Next door, a middle-aged man in dark striped pains, suspenders, a white shirt, and a powder-blue yarmulke, answered and told us he was an orthodox rabbi, and would not talk politics on the Sabbath.

"Would you please read this newsletter then, rabbi, because we feel this election is absolutely crucial?" I said.

"All right," he said, "but you'll have to place it on the floor across the threshold, because I'm not allowed to touch anything like that today."

About half of the weekend canvassers were with us that day in upper Manhattan's Washington Heights. At the briefing session that morning in the neighborhood campaign headquarters, we had been given the necessary politico-socio-economic background, in order to know what to expect.

Area #31 of the 73rd A.D. (an election district) consists largely of rent-controlled walkups, housing lower-middle-class blue collar workers. The median income is somewhere between $7,000 and $11,000, among the neighborhood's Jews and Irish, who account for most of the area's mixed populace. Surveys had shown that most voters in that part of Washington Heights were registered Democrats, hostile to anything associated with liberalism, and largely supporters of Mario Proccaccino.

A LITTLE old man answered our next ring, opening the door first with the chain still on, wondering who would have legitimate reason to call upon him at 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.


"We'd like to talk to you about the issues in the campaign for mayor, if you've got a couple of minutes."

"Really? You're the first people that have ever come around here to ask my opinions in thirty-five years."

Slowly, he unlatched the chain and invited us into his sitting room. We walked down a long hall past a woman in a housecoat who was working in the kitchen.

"Don't pay any attention to her," he said, "She's just the cleaning woman."